These MTB pants clearly have had a lot of thought put into their design and do their intended job pretty well. I’ve tested the women’s version but the men’s pants have all the same features. There’s a matching jacket too, the ION Shelter Jacket 4W Softshell.
Design and Specifications
The Shelters are made from a midweight polyester with 12 percent elastane to give them four-way stretch, and they are made to withstand rough and tumble with triple-stitched seams. This, along with their articulated, pre-shaped knee, gives excellent freedom of movement on the bike, even when wearing knee pads. The fabric has a DWR (durable water repellent) coating to repel water, and this beads spray and light rain quite well, initially at least.
These pants are packed with clever features: tough, reinforced polyamide panels on the inside lower legs where they get the dirtiest and are likely to scuff; a similar panel at the seat that extends down the inner thighs; zips on the lower leg so you can easily pull them on/off but they zip up to a tapered fit so no material around the cranks to interfere with pedaling; and zipped thigh vents with mesh lining for ventilation when you’re working hard or the temperature rises.
Other features include two generous zipped hand pockets and broad Velcro waist adjusters. This adds quite a bit of bulk to the rear waist though, where you tend to get hot already, and the side tabs sometimes catch on your jersey. I much prefer Rapha’s low-profile elasticated waistband in their trail pants.
There’s a lot to like here – the pants are super-comfy and surprisingly warm, although breathable enough that you don’t get too sweaty, and the thigh vents help here. This makes them ideal for really cold conditions, but they are still fine in milder weather, especially if you push/uplift the climbs, rather than pedal them. Get really hot and you can unzip the legs for a few moments to cool your calves.
Fit and length were spot-on for me (I’m 5ft 7in and tested the size 38/M), and they’re cut higher at the rear of the waist, which means they stay comfortably in place when you’re stretched out on the bike, aided by the stretchy fabric. I also like that by unzipping the ankles a little, the material would cover the tops of my boots, preventing mud and spray getting in. The seat and calf panels add durability, and after particularly mucky rides you can simply hose the mud off then chuck them in the wash. The sturdy construction means they should shrug off a fair bit of abuse and last a good few seasons.
However, a couple of issues detract. First is that while Ion says they’re for “wet days in the dirt” the Shelter 4Ws are water-repellent, not waterproof, which is probably fine for most rides but once they’re wet through they don’t dry all that fast, especially in damp conditions. The other is the hand pockets – they are positioned at the front like on regular pants or jeans, which is fine off the bike but doesn’t work when riding as the contents sit over the hip/thigh crease and dig in when pedaling. Also the inner neoprene phone pouch is a nice idea but again its position feels uncomfy and interferes with pedaling plus it’s too small to fit most smartphones.
If you live somewhere drier – or don’t mind getting wet legs – and don’t want to carry your smartphone in your pocket, then these pants will keep you clean, warm and well-protected from mud, crud and scrapes, making them decent value if you buy them on sale (as they are currently).
Tech specs: ION Shelter Pants 4W Softshell
- Price: $169.00 / £145.00 / €169.99 / AU$ 255.00 / CA$219.00
- Sizes: 34/XS-42/XL
- Colors: Indigo Dawn, Gray